A few things we're working on...

The Populi development team is plugging away at our next release. Here's a glance at some of it:

Personal settings for all users

Depending on your user roles, you'll have different options—Timezone, birthday announcement opt-out, Activity Feed visibility, plus a few other things.

Organization profiles

Organization Profiles are getting the look and functionality of regular Profiles. In addition to an Activity Feed, there'll also be a Members tab that lets you keep track of people in your system who are associated with that organization.

Associating people with Organizations will be easier—add new Orgs right from a person's Info tab. You can also specify the relationship (Employment, Member, and for College type orgs, Student) and the timeframe of the person's involvement with the Org.

Also: custom info fields for Organizations!

New reports and workflows in Library

We'll be releasing a Circulation report with multiple perspectives on your active loans. In addition, there will be Inventory and Resource Batching tools in the Library Catalog.

Email dropboxing

The other marquee feature is email dropboxing. Dropboxing works by giving you a secret email address. When you copy or forward to that secret address, Populi will figure out the recipients and post your email to their Activity Feeds. The best part is, you can do this from any email client—Outlook, Gmail, Apple Mail, iOS Mail app, etc.—not just Populi. This will make your communications easier than ever to record, and will make the Activity Feed a more complete record of your correspondence with prospects, students, and other contacts.

An automotive metaphor

Say your small college is a family of five, you're shopping for a car, and you're wondering what's out there. Here's are some of your options:

On the low-cost end you find:
  • The Word and Excel approach. This is like tying two bicycles together and calling it a car. It's cheap, it rolls, and you're gonna lose your groceries if you try pedaling home on that thing.
  • The roll-your-own Access-based system. This is a bicycle tied to a wheelbarrow, or perhaps a Flintstones-style, foot-powered car: either way, there's lots of hard work involved to make it go anywhere.
  • The K-12 program wedged into a higher education context. This is a riding lawn mower used as family transportation.
  • The fly-by-night company that barfs out something software-ish. This is the shifty used-car salesman pushing a beater '85 Plymouth with no muffler and the stuffing pulled out of the back seats. Also, it's on fire.
Then there are the big guys:
  • The giant hosted database with no interface. This is a 48' shipping container. I guess your family could just watch it sit there.
  • The LMS with all the bells and whistles. This is the luxury tour bus with the helipad and built-in swimming pool that gets two miles a gallon on the highway because it's too expensive to give it an oil change.
  • The open-source LMS. This is a school bus built out of parts from other vehicles and painted up to look like the luxury tour bus. Slightly better gas mileage on downhill slopes, though.
  • The huge, endlessly-customizable SIS with a three-year implementation period. This looks like you've ordered a custom-built Ferrari but by the time all the parts get bolted together you've ended up with a surplus U.S. Army transport.

Further, you'll need a team of mechanics to make sure your fleet of vehicles fits together. You'll also need a warehouse full of spare parts and some long-term maintenance contracts. Oh, and for some reason the window glass on the bus is all blacked-out—so you'll need to hire a third-party automotive glazier to design you a clear windshield.

Is that it?

Is that all that's available to a small college? Of course not. This is the Populi blog, and so now we're gonna liken Populi to the perfect family car... ready? Here goes:

Then there's Populi. This is the Toyota minivan, which seats five to seven, has a lifetime parts-and-labor warranty, and even has a built-in DVD player (if that's your thing) and magazine rack. Sure, it's nothing flashy, but it's good, dependable transportation just right for a wide variety of families.

Arrivederci IE7: March 19, 2012

On March 19th, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 turns three. On that same day, Populi will drop support for Internet Explorer 7, which will be 5½ years old at that time.

Why are we dropping IE7?

A number of tightly-intertwined reasons:

  • It's an old browser that doesn't comply with modern web standards
  • It's old and slow and buggy, not to mention full of horrifying security vulnerabilities
  • Very few people use it any more—it accounts for about 2.3% of Populi logins (see the above chart)
  • Its worldwide usage is dropping*, and it's unlikely that future customers will be using it
  • Continued support of IE7 diverts resources away from more worthwhile long-term projects
What should you do?

If you're using Internet Explorer 7, it's time to stop! IE7 doesn't just have problems with Populi—it doesn't play nice with a good part of the internet, and it's only going to get worse. The solution is easy: download one of these free web browsers (links below). It'll take just a few minutes and make for a much better online experience overall.




And if you're running Windows Vista or 7, you can also try IE9...

*In this article, Microsoft itself says that it is "pleased IE6 and IE7 usage share continues to drop (by 0.85% in October); it’s an indication that customers recognize the benefits they can realize when using a modern browser."

Looking back on 2011

Three weeks and change into 2012, here's a look back at what Populi did in 2011...

We started the New Year with a rewrite of Academics to include Programs, as well as new account management features and better navigation in Admissions.

In April we released Populi Library.

In June we overhauled Financial Aid to include aid applications, batch disbursements, ISIRs imports, and a lot more.

In September we overhauled Courses with new navigation, lots of improvements to online learning, and embeddable streaming media hosted on Populi's new file storage system.

Along the way...

In February we improved search, degree audits, relationships, and statements.

In March we improved the presentation and organization student financial info (statements, balances, and the like...).

In April we added online application notifications so your Admissions staff can hear about new inquiries as soon as they click Submit.

After releasing Library, we followed up with new features (Library Links) and some other updates.

October saw some behind-the-scenes stability and performance improvements.

And in December (right before shuffling off to the Christmas party), we released further improvements to email and the Populi background job-manager, and gave tables a new look.

We have a lot planned for 2012—and we're working on some of it even as this post is being written. We're looking forward to the work we'll get to do, and to seeing how our schools put the fruits of our labors to use.



Feature Spotlight: Relationships

Every person in Populi gets their own profile. It's the best way to gather, organize, and easily find information about the teeming mass of individuals involved with your school. Of course, one of the things about people is that we're all connected in webs of relationships—familial, professional, social—so we built a way for you to keep track of that, too. Fittingly enough, it's called... Relationships.

It's in the Info tab on everyone's profile, showing and linking to everyone in Populi that the person is related to in some way:

There are several types of relationships, and one click designates any one of them as the person's Emergency Contact:

You can sync contact info among related people. This spares you having to double-enter addresses and the like:

Relationships also facilitates some handy communications options, like spouse and merge options in mailing lists:

Another cool thing— parents of students get "Parent of [standing]" system tags, letting you easily communicate with, say, Parents of Seniors to tell them about upcoming graduation activities:

Relationships: another simple feature that lets you do a lot with the people you're keeping up with in Populi.

Oppose SOPA and PIPA

On Tuesday, January 24th, the U.S. Senate is slated to vote on the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Together with its counterpart bill in the House of Representatives, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)*, it seeks to curtail online bootlegging from overseas websites via several means:

  • It gives the U.S. government the power to force internet service providers to block access sites that traffic in bootlegged (or, in the words of the bill's proponents, pirated) content.
  • The government could also sue search engines and other websites to prevent them from linking to such sites.
  • U.S. credit card companies and advertisers would be required to cancel their accounts with those sites so as to cut off their sources of funding.
  • It prescribes jail sentences for users who post copyrighted works or links to infringing sites.

We here at Populi oppose these two bills for a number of reasons. Our chief concerns:

  • They extend considerable powers to the U.S. government to shut down sites that the beneficiary corporations consider "infringing".
  • They allow corporations to sue the owners of such "infringing" sites.
  • The bills are draconian: the government could block sites like Facebook and Twitter if just one user posted just one link to an infringing site.
  • The smallest infraction runs afoul of the bill's harshest measures.
  • Perhaps worst of all: the bills destabilize the Domain Name System (DNS), one of the key methods used to make the internet secure and at all trustworthy.

This video explains what's at stake...

We care about the internet—it lets us serve our customers and earn a living, after all—and PIPA and SOPA are foolish, short-sighted pieces of legislation that will do great harm to it.

Read more about these bills at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and americancensorship.org and contact your Senators to encourage them to oppose PIPA.

* SOPA was shelved on January 16th, which means that the House won't vote on it. It is currently very wounded, but not dead.